Review: Hackers and Painters (Paul Graham)

Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

Paul Graham has been writing online since before 2000, today he has 45 articles published for free online. New articles now make Slashdot‘s frontpage, quite a big event in geek circles. He published this book last year and it contains 15 chapters, 10 of which are online and 5 of which are new (and probably won’t go online I guess). The 5 new chapters are:

  • Good Bad Attitude
  • How to Make Wealth
  • Mind the Gap
  • Programming Languages Explained
  • The Dream Language
  • Update Jan 2005: How to Make Wealth is now online.

    Good Bad Attitudes discusses the nerds instinct to step outside of the rules. Hurrah for us thinking outside of the box. How to Make Wealth explains that start-ups are a great way to make new wealth, and as a part of that start-up you can share in that wealth (so get on with it!). Mind the Gap discusses unequal income distributions, Graham think it is less of a problem than is popularly perceived and I tend to agree with his arguments. The last two new essays discuss aspects of programming language design.

    Having read all of the online essays over the years, it felt sensible just to buy this book and give Graham a little cash back. I’d definitely rate this book to new readers who are interested in what makes a geek a geek and the world of high-tech entrepreneurship.

    If you’ve read the online essays, you’ll still get 5 new chapters and How to Make Wealth alone is probably worth the entire price of the book, I quote:

    “At Viaweb one of our rules of thumb was ‘run upstairs’. Suppose you are a big, fat, bully. You open a door and find yourself in a staircase. Do you go up or down? I say up. The bully can probably run downstairs as fast as you can. Going upstairs his will be more of a disadvantage. Running upstairs is hard for you but even harder for him.”

    The online essays appear to be word-for-word reproduced in the book, but illustrations have been added. If you’ve never read Paul Graham, I’d suggest starting with his online essay Hackers and Painters (which is also one of the chapters in the book, and obviously the book’s title too). Overall: thumbs up.


    • Duncan
      I've read all of Paul Graham's online articles and I like his style. Definitely worth looking at, IMHO.
    • Ian
      Definitely! Mostly he's pretty sensible, though some of the time his arguments are unsupported - but since all the articles on-line are free, it doesn't hurt to read and make up your own mind.
    • [...] He might be talking rubbish, but I think his ideas are sound - his articles are good and his book has some interesting extra essays. His essays centre on the high-tech industry, so perhaps don’t translate to other fields. [...]
    • [...] Two good entrepreneurial articles, first Paul Graham’s How To Make Wealth, previously only available in Hackers and Painters is now online. If you wanted to get rich, how would you do it? I think your best bet would be to start or join a startup. That’s been a reliable way to get rich for hundreds of years. The word “startup” dates from the 1960s, but what happens in one is very similar to the venture-backed trading voyages of the Middle Ages. [...]